A Plan Arriveth -- Part Two
Firstly, I cannot have anything I do in relationships at this stage of my late-late-late childhood be done or be not done because of fear and fear alone.
To be afraid to speak one’s mind to a male is, in a way, to validate the idea that males are weak and very fragile in the ego department. If I am afraid to speak the truth to a man—who in this and in almost every culture in the history of mankind is supposed to be much stronger in every respect than a woman—am I not saying that I am afraid the man is not strong and will be hurt? And if hurt, will lash out in a way that reflects that and endangers me thereby? Am I taking responsibility for his ego? For his strength, or lack of it, yang to the yin of my femininity? Or am I acknowledging that I fear that this one time, he will haul off and punch me, make me bloody, break my teeth and eye sockets and bones? Yes I think I am actually saying that. The first part is my ego—In a way that is hidden to me I think he is weak and I am powerful and can hurt him in a way he won’t be able to endure. The second part is my childhood, still bubbling away in the cauldron of my subconscious. How then to act with awareness and with wisdom, the substrata of my mind brought to the surface, and to cast out long-held fears; fears practically bred in the bone, so irrelevant and unwarranted now?
Before I answer that, another problem is flagging me down from the corners of my consciousness. Sometimes this peaceful man, who truly has never said an unkind thing to me, and certainly never threatened me, says about other people—people crossing the street, or texting while driving, or doing nothing at all obviously wrong other than drawing breath—things that superficially turn me off (“What do you even exist for? Go away! You should crash and die!”), and deep down, make me think he’s racist and classist and hate-filled. I think he’s trying to be entertaining, and to be “elite” for me, and make me continue to believe he’s a misanthrope in philanthrope’s garb. In any case I think this behavior actually does scare me. People, and men in particular, have the power to scare me about my safety with their words, whether personally threatening to me or not. Dostoevsky said, “Ideas have consequences”. Tolstoy: “Thoughts are things”. So ideas of hate become hate crimes; violent thoughts become fists, stones, knives, guns.
This fear goes way, way back, to my earliest days, when boys scared me ‘cause they were unruly and played rough. And then a little bit later, they threatened to give me a beating—actually, the boy I loved the very most in the whole world threatened to kill me. In the bike racks. With what—bikes? Gravel? By sieving me through the wire fencing that separated school grounds from the dry and filthy water channel? He was stupid and I knew it, and he knew it. But because he knew it he was even angrier at me. And because he was stupid and angry I forgave him (sort of) and wanted his love even more miserably. Forgiveness and love are past fear on the developmental road. And yet they were carmelized together that day, forever crenating and confusing anger and fear and stupidity and forgiveness and love from-to-about-with-at boys. In other words, when I think a man is stupid, I fear him. When I think he has hatred, I fear him. When I love him, I fear him.
Just saying, “don’t be afraid” doesn’t do a single thing. If anything, it reinforces fear because it adds shame. You intellectually know you shouldn’t be afraid, but you feel you are, and the dissonance between what you know and what you feel renders you ashamed at your core. You can’t intellectualize yourself out of a feeling. Go ahead; try. Later, you can act as if, and then you might feel differently, but just saying, “don’t” is as good as saying “do”.
Essentially then it was fear and shame that glued me to the relationship spot. And then, from the interstitial titials between thought and feeling, came the desire to free myself of fears so old and crusty (I mean, afraid of first graders?) that it’s absurd to even recall them much less be guided by them; to come into the present, where I am grown up enough to handle a fight with words (and probably no yelling would even be involved), and to go bravely forward.
But before I go on about that, I want to add the other piece. This is, that from now on, whatever I do on occasions of such import, especially after so much writhing and time wasting about them, must align with my values.
I realize that I have used as an excuse for not being adult and firm (a form of kindness and respect in relationships) my strong value of avoiding hurting people. In the process I’ve avoided the truth, which is essentially lying by omission. Even while I’m forgiving myself for this oversight, I know I can’t turn back. Lying to people in effort not to hurt them is babying them; preventing their growth even. I will take care of my own hurt, and let others take care of theirs.
So… the tale restarts at this point. We join our heroine in the patch of weeds where the chihua-wolves play with bugs and their masters practice bending over with small green satchels pincer-like in their hands.
It is a hot, hot afternoon, and alas, everyone is cranky. What better time to let the truth alight from my frustrated, chalk-lipped gullet with the force of ten Pabsts opening atwonce?
He comes out to the weedy parcel from the other side of the donation tree, saying to me and the pets, “I think not about the meaning of life, wanting only to squander time. Want to go to Costco?”
Whereupon I said, “Sweet-heart, I DO think about the meaning of life, and I want NEVER to go to Costco, for I want to spend my next years in contemplation. This be not a judgment, but just an ‘is’. I’m going to go home now, and from now on we are friends and that’s it. You can be mad, and you can be hurt, or have any feelings you want, of course. My acting in accordance with my values is not meant to cause you unsettling feelings.”
Whereupon he turned and walked away a yard or so, and pivoting back towards me said, “Ok, I get it. No, I don’t get it. I’m not mad; no, I am mad. Whatever.” He then fully turned and went back whence he came, and disappeared from sight.
I had to swallow my fear that he would come back and fall upon me, hitting me and screaming and smashing my Chevalier Malibu—another big fear. I stood there for a second, instantly covered in heat and sweat and mortification—my ego had just been crushed after all when his ego was not crushed (which of course it was). Then I shakily got into my Chev, hustling the curious and whiny chihua-wolves into the back—and worried that I had forgotten how to drive in the last few minutes, nonetheless backed out of the spot and toodled down the street, FREE AS A BIRD.
If I had not had as a child that beautiful, earthy, unique-to-me near death experience in the bike rack, combined with the hate and love and confusion and sex and everything else that I felt for that sixth grade kid and for myself (I did go to the bike racks at recess; I stood there alone for a few minutes, then went back to my friends Celeste and Kit and Ellen) – how would I know how to be brave?
Somehow, knowing the source of my fears, and of my bravery too--knowing I was afraid and that I could do whatever I needed to do -- I could risk my life not in spite of my fear but BECAUSE of my fear—this is how I came to know the outrageous fabulousness of sweaty, all-or-nothing-at-all COURAGE in relationships!!!
Here are the steps I took in a nutshell.
One, from the safety of my turret, I assessed the situation. I described it in terms of what I feared would happen.
Two, I looked at fear-causing interpersonal situations I’d had when I was young and impressionable. I thought about all the men who had scared me this way and that: dates and strangers and neighbors and teachers and bosses and others. Where it was someone I knew I considered them again, from my adult perspective. I looked at my darkest fears in the situation. What I saw was fear they would do something atavistic or sex-driven. I saw humiliation, mine and theirs; I heard loud noises that came and went in moments; I felt fears of being caught by my parents! Sometimes what I saw wasn’t so dark after all. And often, what I saw was aspects of myself that made me more afraid of how I would behave than of the other person. After all this, I felt really glad and satisfied to have had all this experience. I saw that memories cannot really harm me. If anything, they keep me safe. I also have all these instances where I survived, and grew, and even conquered-- to keep in my quiver.
Three, I thought of times in my young life when powerful people said I was wrong and shamed me, but where I actually felt I was right. I realized those times were moments of courageous belief in myself; an awareness of my rights.
Therefore Four, that even though my significant other will treat me as if I were wrong when I break up with him, I can still believe that I am right; that is my right. I can assert my right to my opinions and desires to pursue my goals, just as rightly as he can assert his. It may be unfair for him to treat me as if I were wrong just because he was not getting what he wanted, but all I have to do is acknowledge that unfairness and continue to press my rights and beliefs. (Indeed, it would also be childish for him to be mad simply because he was not getting what he wanted, but when something we love is taken away from us, of course we go to the child’s place at first.) When it comes to rights, it’s not that you have what another person doesn’t, it’s that you have a singular responsibility to yourself that you are not allowed to cede to anybody else. You belong to you, and all the work and wants and hopes and terrors that go along with being you are singularly yours, too. Are “rights” scary? Yeah I guess they are, if you’re going around thinkin’ that Mom still owns you and makes your decisions and takes responsibility for you. And yes, because even if you don’t do that, you still have to take risks. But then, when you do, you get high. You float away from the scene as if on the shoulders of an entire mosh pit of fans and supporters. It’s an awesome feeling, and all it takes is…